Puffles has been active in Cambridge again


On breaking silos separating communities and turning up to council meetings on cold wintery evenings

As it turned out, no one responded to all the posters I put up around town to turn up to the East Area Committee meeting in Cambridge. Neither as it turns out did a couple of the councillors that I wanted to put questions to – sending their apologies instead. Hence not getting to moan about why not all of the councillors responded to this thread on Shape Your Place.

These days, Me, Richard Taylor and one of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign activists normally turn up to throw questions on a regular basis. My standing items are generally around social media for social action, and institutions engaging and empowering young people. You also get some well-informed residents turning up with their own queries too.

In the end, it was local Labour activist Ann Sinnott who fired a passionate broadside at the police representative from the community safety partnership over their failure to prioritise tackling domestic abuse in Cambridge. That got me thinking about many of the things that I had learnt from many of the women that follow Puffles. Hence after Ann had finished her speech I sort of verbally ambushed the police representative from the other side, talking about some of the institutional and partnership failings. For example institutionally, the police have an incentive only to look at the law and order aspect of domestic violence. Educating young people about treating each other with dignity and respect – especially in relationships – is not something that’s within their remit. But is there some co-ordination that can be done between schools, support groups like Centre 33 and the police in order to nip some problems in the bud?

Community development strategies again

It’s something I’ve been going on about for quite some time (see here), but what struck me was how such a strategy could be applied to tackle problems. Part of it is sharing common data sets and information across institutions – and those institutions working with each other when analysing it. What happens when different institutions bring all their analysts together to examine common data and information sets?

This comes back to my point about mapping the city that I raised in previous blogposts. To what extent do the institutions know about the diverse groups that make up the city of Cambridge? To what extent do they know where some of the more ‘at risk’ groups are, let alone know what are the best actions to reduce the risks they face?

Mill Road taking the lead again

I was quite interested in this document from Mill Road Co-ordinator on improving Mill Road still further. It’s probably one of the most vibrant and active parts of the city outside of the university quarters. At the same time, it’s one road that many Cambridge University students may never venture down during their time at Cambridge. This sort of work actually makes the work of councillors both much easier and much more effective at the same time. By that I mean councillors take on the role of ‘institutional barrier busters’ due to the public office they hold. The next step up the escalation ladder is to the local MP. Basically you can’t sit back and wait for councillors to do everything themselves – but at the same time there are things councillors can do to nurture communities they are elected to represent. My criticism of a couple of councillors in Cambridge is that they’ve not done this, and as a result parts of Cambridge have become dormant and insular.

As for the document itself, the only thing I’d pull them back on is all things social media. There is a critical mass of ‘social media for social action’ types – thinking people such as Ellie Stonely and Mel Findlater who can give advice on improving that section of the plan. Ditto with some of the more technically-minded friends of Puffles – thinking Sam Smith, who may have issues with the idea of a Mill Road app given that Puffles’ friends in the Government Digital Service are pointing people away from apps and towards mobile-friendly digital instead. Finally, the ideas in Mill Road make an ideal testing ground for a pilot Cambridge Societies’ Fair. If Mill Road can’t make a success of such an event, no one can.

Breaking the town/gown silos

My thinking here was that we needed a ‘something’ that brought people from Cambridge University, Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge City (the permanent residents) together, doing something active. Furthermore, we needed something that had a common theme and allowed people with multiple shared interests to get to know each other. The challenge for me was finding the right event idea, and finding the right people to make it happen. Earlier on, things finally came to fruition.

Cambridge and Anglia students are hot on all things environmental

I found this out in autumn 2013 when I wandered around all over the place meeting lots of people in green-related societies. See my blogpost here. The next challenge was identifying friendly open-minded individuals from those groups who were most likely to be able to make something happen. Just before Christmas I got in touch with Anna McIvor of Transition Cambridge, Francesca Rust, president of Anglia Ruskin Student Union, and Emily Dunning of the Cambridge Student Hub. Having arranged to meet up for coffee, my contribution was to ask Anna to explain to Emily and Francesca what a green skills fest might look like based on the one I went to in November (See here), and away the three of them went.

Puffles with Anglia Ruskin Student Union President Francesca Rust
Puffles with Anglia Ruskin Student Union President Francesca Rust

It was awe-inspiring to watch and listen to the three of them (who I don’t think had met each other before) talk to each other as if they had been friends for ages. What was really nice to see was Anna’s experience of organising events being transmitted to Emily and Francesca – providing some useful challenge to them and to myself too. There were some things that I assumed were going to work – such as having lots of stalls around a big hall for people to look at ‘freshers fair’ style. Anna said that approach had been tried, and for the sort of interactive event we wanted, it would not work. Within an hour, the three of them had drawn out a clear plan of action, and by the end of the day we secured both a fantastic venue – Anglia Ruskin’s Cambridge campus on East Road, and a date – Sunday 2nd March 2014.

In one sense, there’s not that much for me to do – much of the logistics will fall on Anglia Student Union. At the same time, my thinking was to have the event held at ARU so that students from Cambridge and local residents could see Anglia’s modernised campus – one that has undergone very significant changes since I completed my post-graduate studies in history there just under a decade ago. At the same time, with an event such as this on the doorstep of many of the students, chances are more of them will pop their heads round for it than if it were elsewhere. What was also really interesting to see was Emily and Francesca identifying Cambridge and Anglia student societies with similar interests. Their aim is to bring pairs of societies and challenge/encourage them to develop short workshops for the event. Think about it. If we get say about 5-10 pairs of societies working as partners to produce and deliver workshops for the event, think of the bridges that will create between the two bodies of students.

Timing and sequencing

We’ve also managed to get things to align with existing events and campaigns – our planned event (which will hopefully bring in at least 100 people – tail crossed!) coinciding with Cambridge Green Week. Hence publicity and advertising won’t be seen to be standalone. Rather it will be part of something even bigger. We’ve still got to work out the content. But for me, the biggest barriers were always going to be finding a suitable date and a venue. Now that we have both, and the commitment of three significant active but very different groups in the city, I hope the event will be a brilliant success.

Watch this space.


One thought on “Puffles has been active in Cambridge again

  1. It’s really interesting to think about the challenges around issues like domestic violence for public services. In Wales, we have the Future Generations Bill (http://wales.gov.uk/topics/sustainabledevelopment/future-generations-bill/?lang=en), which places emphasis on prevention, which may start to change things.

    In terms of statutory requirements, it’s interesting to see organisations go the extra mile when they’re not required to in the name of sustainable development. It’s great to see organisations like Bromford Housing putting in place steps like the Bromford Deal – http://www.bromford.co.uk/the-bromford-deal/.

    Interesting times are ahead!

    – Dyfrig

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